Saturday, August 13, 2022

Mixed messages over Gazidis’ Milan links but his departure would be a big surprise

Arsenal are so committed to the transfer market this summer that we’ve gone beyond simply being part of stories about a player coming here or a player going there, we’re now even dealing with corporate transfers.

For a few days now stories from Italy have linked Ivan Gazidis with the job of managing director of AC Milan. The story there is the previous owner was not wise with the money, they’ve been banned from next season’s Europa League for violations of Financial Fair Play (genius, come on Arsenal, let’s do that!), and been taken over by an American hedge fund called Elliot Management.

They, apparently, want Gazidis to head up a new boardroom and that’s where the rumours are coming from. I did some digging yesterday and found nothing to verify the story. An Arsenal spokesperson said they were unaware of anything to do with this, while another source told me they’d heard nothing about it. Then, independently of my enquiries, I got a text to say that there may well be something to do the story. How much, I don’t know, but this was from someone I trust so that adds a layer of interest to things.

I have to say I’d be very surprised if this happened though. Having been piggy in the middle of Wenger and Kroenke for so many years, Gazidis now has control, power and responsibility. It’s clear he was given the green light to flex his executive muscles long before the announcement of Arsene Wenger’s departure.

Last year the club brought in Darren Burgess from Port Adelaide as Head of High Performance – a decision made without having to be approved by the former manager as all previous first team staff appointments were. Since then we’ve all seen the restructuring that’s gone on behind the scenes.

Dick Law, a long-time Wenger ally, left to be replaced by Team Sky’s contract guru Huss Fahmy. Then we appointed a Head of Recruitment, a real sign that the balance of power was shifting from the manager’s office to executive level. Sven Mislintat’s arrival with that job title inferred the former Borussia Dortmund man had both responsibility and power, and while both he and Wenger said the right things, it was clear that he was there to make decisions about players which had previously been the remit of the manager.

His influence since has been notable, bringing in three players from his former club – one of them indirectly via the swap involving Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez – and the fact that the new boss, Unai Emery, was appointed so recently means his input into our transfer dealings has been more or less minimal. These are deals done by Gazidis, Mislintat and, of course, our other executive appointment, Raul Sanllehi.

The former Barcelona and Nike man was described as a close friend of the chief executive when the links to him and Arsenal emerged, and the fact that we were bringing in a Director of Football from one of Europe’s biggest clubs told you a lot about the way that things were going to go. If the alarm bells weren’t ringing in Wenger’s head before then, they had to have been when Sanllehi was announced as our Head of Football Relations.

Nobody was fooled by the title. He was officially Definitely Not Director of Football because of Wenger’s well-publicised aversion to that kind of set-up which he felt undermined the position of a manager, but we all knew that was going to be the Director of Football as soon as the coast was clear. His job title hasn’t changed since but that matters little because his responsibilities, along with the other executives, are what makes his job.

So, since last year Gazidis has presided over those changes at first team level, been involved in the revamped academy as well with Per Mertesacker taking over as academy manager, Freddie Ljungberg coming in as U23 manager, along with a number of key coaching and administrative appointments too. He has the kind of responsibility he would never have had under Wenger, credit is due to him and the club for the way things have gone this summer, and appears to be enjoying that.

He held a press conference about the former manager’s departure, one that could have taken place in any number of venues at the Emirates Stadium, in the chair that Wenger held his post-match pressers for years. Pointed? Perhaps. It was a performance that didn’t sit right with me, having far too much of a mawkish, insincere funereal vibe for my liking, but maybe that’s just me.

He told the press when Unai Emery was announced that ‘those who know, won’t speak, and those that speak, don’t know’ when it came to stories about Mikel Arteta – something that didn’t go down particularly well with some of them. Regardless of what you think about journalists or the media, there was a very good reason everyone was talking about Arteta, and it wasn’t simply because everyone was talking about Arteta.

Some of the changes made this summer have left some Arsenal staff uneasy, not because they were made but how they were made. Put it down to corporate ruthlessness if you like, and that’s fine, but you can’t wave that flag at the same time as one which heralds Arsenal’s so-called class as a club. There are ways and means of doing things, and sometimes you have to be a bit hard, but it doesn’t mean you have to absolutely shaft people. Clearing the decks for new appointments is fine, there’s always a need to refresh staff and bring in new people with fresh ideas etc, but should that come at the expense of the reputations of people who have worked hard and given Arsenal good service down the years?

Still, this is very much a club now moulded in the image of what Ivan Gazidis wants. He’s made the decisions, he’s put himself front and centre of almost everything from the manager’s departure, the arrival of the new boss, supporter’s club meetings, and even yesterday he was at a PR event for the Arsenal Legends game against Real Madrid next month. He’s taken the responsibility to move the club on from the previous era, and the efficacy of his decision making will be seen in the season/seasons to come.

Given his new-found propensity for the spotlight, having lived in the shadows for so long – an elusive figure at times, he could nix this story with a few words to the media at one of these events, or via one of the back channels to a friendly journalist. Perhaps he feels it’s not even worth commenting on, but I guess we’ll find out in due course.

Right, all that aside we have some bonus midweek podcasting for you. If you’re an Arseblog Member on Patreon you’ll have heard this one already, but if not you can check out my interview with former Gunner Philippe Senderos below. We chat about his career with a heavy focus on Arsenal of course, and he speaks really well and honestly about his time at the club.

You can listen to that here, and it’s ready to download in your favourite podcasting app right now. Also, the Liam Brady podcast is now live for Patreon members, you can check that out right now.

That’s it. More tomorrow, have a good one.

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